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THE ALCOHOLIC

Could be the most compelling and provocative work from either collaborator.

Rarely does a collaboration produce a graphic novel of such literary and artistic merit.

Ames (Wake Up, Sir!, 2004, etc.) has distinguished himself as both a novelist and an essayist/journalist with a confessional intimacy and self-deprecating humor that sometimes blurs the line between memoir and fiction. He has found his artistic match in Haspiel, who brought a revelatory new dimension to the graphic memoirs of Harvey Pekar (The Quitter, 2006). Here, the whole is even better than the anticipated sum of its parts, with Ames exploring darker depths than he has in previous work, matched by Haspiel’s noir-ish black-and-white illustrations, which make the lacerating, brutally funny story of a lovesick, self-destructive writer come alive on the page. With a protagonist named Jonathan A., the narrative invites the reader to identify the fictional novelist with his creator, though the string of mysteries penned by A. don’t match the literary output of Ames. Yet it matters little what of this is “true” in the factual sense—the drugged-out debauchery, the coming-of-age sexuality, the opening tryst with an elderly woman that launches a series of flashbacks—for the truth of art rather than autobiography provides the richness here. In the wake of September 11, the self-absorbed narrator finds revelation outside himself: “It’s perhaps too apt a metaphor, but collectively man was like a giant alcoholic—he knew better but he couldn’t help but destroy himself and everything around him.” The protagonist’s attempts to come to terms with the tragedy as well as his addictions include cameos by President Bill Clinton and (hilariously) Monica Lewinsky. If the dinner with the latter never happened, it should have. There’s also an orgy instigated by students at the school where the writer attempts to find refuge, and where he discovers that five women can’t help him forget one. And there’s a tender undercurrent throughout of a boyhood friendship complicated by suppressed homosexuality.

Could be the most compelling and provocative work from either collaborator.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4012-1056-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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HERE

A gorgeous symphony.

Illustrator McGuire (What’s Wrong With This Book, 1997, etc.) once again frames a fixed space across the millennia.

McGuire’s original treatment of the concept—published in 1989 in Raw magazine as six packed pages—here gives way to a graphic novel’s worth of two-page spreads, and the work soars in the enlarged space. Pages unspool like a player-piano roll, each spread filled by a particular time, while inset, ever shifting panels cut windows to other eras, everything effervescing with staggered, interrelated vignettes and arresting images. Researchers looking for Native American artifacts in 1986 pay a visit to the house that sprouts up in 1907, where a 1609 Native American couple flirtatiously recalls the legend of a local insatiable monster, while across the room, an attendee of a 1975 costume party shuffles in their direction, dressed as a bear with arms outstretched. A 1996 fire hose gushes into a 1934 floral bouquet, its shape echoed by a billowing sheet on the following page, in 2015. There’s a hint of Terrence Malick’s beautiful malevolence as panels of nature—a wolf in 1430 clenching its prey’s bloody haunch; the sun-dappled shallows of 2113’s new sea—haunt scenes of domesticity. McGuire also plays with the very concept of panels: a boy flaunts a toy drum in small panels of 1959 while a woman in 1973 sets up a projection screen (a panel in its own right) that ultimately displays the same drummer boy from a new angle; in 2050, a pair of old men play with a set of holographic panels arranged not unlike the pages of the book itself and find a gateway to the past. Later spreads flash with terrible and ancient supremacy, impending cataclysm, and distant, verdant renaissance, then slow to inevitable, irresistible conclusion. The muted colors and soft pencils further blur individual moments into a rich, eons-spanning whole.

A gorgeous symphony.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-40650-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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HEART OF DARKNESS

Gorgeous and troubling.

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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